28. Funston on the march

Funston lamented the missed opportunities. They'd only been one day out of Casigurian when those ignorant Macs raided their food supply. Perhaps they should have gone back and re-provisioned. No doubt they'd have needed force, perhaps even to raze the village. The local peasants had precious little for themselves, they'd have fought to the death. Better them than us, the general thought. Now the whole mission was in jeopardy, compromised because of hunger and fatigue. Funston saw no remedy but to go on, but how? Travel slower, conserve strength and starve, or move faster, become enfeebled and collapse with exhaustion? The mission all that mattered, he cared little about the cost. If their adventure was star-crossed, it was the fault of idiots and savages. He'd not let their incompetence deprive him of what was rightfully his. He'd capture Aguinaldo single handedly if he had to. Segovia's shrill, lisping shouts brought Funston out of his reverie.

He looked down the beach and saw the Spanish turncoat lean into Hilario Talplacido's red, sweating face. "Get up you pig! Have you no shame?"

The portly Filipino narcotics dealer and make-believe colonel lay prostrate in the sand, blubbering and exhausted from the march. "Lazaro, have mercy! I can't go another step. Leave me on the trail to die. I beg you to have pity. Segismundo tells me a difficult mountain lies in our path just ahead. I'll never make it."

Disdainful of the miserable creature at his feet, Segovia hissed, "If we didn't need you, you'd already be dead."

An idea suddenly struck Talplacido, and he rose up on one elbow. "I'll pay. I have money!" He reached into his shirt and pulled out a fistful of bills. "Surely you can't object if I pay."

Segovia spat in the dirt, and then feigned a kick to the fat man's belly. Talplacido groaned, opened both hands to protect his flabby midsection, and peso notes fluttered in a circle around him. "Ask these men to carry you like some Roman emperor? You're supposed to be their commander. What will they think?"

The Filipino waved generally in the direction of the imitation insurrectos. "My men love me. It pains them to see me in distress. Besides, when has a Macabebe refused the opportunity to pocket a little silver?"

"Your men! Love you? If they knew you carried that much currency, they'd have killed you themselves and saved me the trouble." The Spaniard turned his back and walked away, sending a final warning over his shoulder. "This column marches in ten minutes with or without you."

General Funston gave the order to get underway, and the invaders dragged themselves to their feet, four of the strongest transporting the suffering Hilario Talplacido on a makeshift litter.

In two hours they came to it. A huge fortress wall of black granite, one hundred feet high, extended into the sea and completely blocked their path. Talplacido groaned. Not even the strongest men could carry him up the sheer cliff. He dropped to the ground and begged for death.

Funston ordered the stronger men to climb first, find the most favorable route to the top, and then assist the weaker men following. Five hours remained before sundown. A difficult, dangerous climb under the best of circumstances, in their weakened condition a nighttime ascent meant certain death. As the column began the slow trek up the rock face, the courier, Segismundo, gave the general more bad news. "We must reach the top and descend to the beach on the other side or we will lose a day to the ocean tides."

All afternoon the men struggled to reach the summit. Once there, they briefly rested and then martialed the strength to hazard the treacherous descent in the darkness just after sunset under a heavy monsoon cloudburst. Later, on the beach, a few of the men made palm leaf shelters to protect against the rain. Others, beyond exhaustion, fell paralyzed to the sand and slept exposed to the elements.

Dawn broke cold and wet. Segovia detailed several men to gather driftwood for cook fires, while others searched the beach for clams, mussels and crayfish - anything edible to go into the stewpots. The soldiers moved like zombies, their joints stiff, their minds benumbed. The small quantities of shellfish they found when boiled did little but turn their heated water into brackish, gray slime. Just the smell of it and Burton Mitchell was seized by a paroxysm of violent stomach spasms.

Only one day's food supply remained, but Funston knew his men had to have nourishment to get them to their final camp that night, and he ordered half the remaining rations distributed. Barely two thimblefuls of rice, but each soldier clutched his portion in greedy, protective fingers and savored each flyspeck morsel as it went down.

In two hours the tide rose and forced the column into a huge Mangrove swamp bordered on all sides by a dense, impenetrable jungle. Tormented by clouds of angry, voracious mosquitoes and stinging black flies, the men waded for miles through brown, snake-infested water. All day long Lazaro Segovia shadowed the weary soldiers reminding them of their mission, entreating them to keep moving and resist the temptation to eat the leeches they pulled from their bodies.

By mid-afternoon the party broke clear of the swamp and saw in the distance a tiny native village built on a rocky outcropping at the edge of the sea. "Dinudungan, sir," Segismundo said. "Aguinaldo maintains an outpost of soldiers there. Palanan lies just beyond those low hills."

They'd done it, the general said to himself. A hundred miles through hostile terrain with no food and they hadn't lost a man. One for the history books, but he had no time to reflect on that pleasant notion. The most dangerous part of their mission lay before them.

Movement in the village. Funston raised his field glasses and counted twenty heavily armed insurrectos dressed in clean, white uniforms heading their way. "Get Talplacido up here fast."

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1. Fagen arrives in the Philippines

2. White soldiers bring their prejudice with them

3. Fagen hears another side of the story

4. Dinner with Colonel Funston

5. Fagen's first taste of combat

6. Fagen meets Clarita

7. More than fair?

8. The water cure

9. Fagen gets his fortune told

10. Imperialism exposed

11. Sergeant Rivers speaks his mind

12. Genocide

13. Fagen meets El Presidente

14. Bad news comes to Fagen

15. Fate takes over

16. San Lazaro leper hospital

17. An offer Fagen can't refuse

18. Funston makes a plan

19. "Capitan" Fagen

20. Funston assembles his team

21. Morality, ethics and war

22. Jungle encounter

23. Commencement

24. Benevolent assimilation

25. Colonel Bloody Shirt pays a call

26. Fagen declares war on God

27. Major Baston tastes his own medicine

28. Funston on the march

29. Fagen goes home